Managing a luxury-level property demands extra special attention be paid to a guest who is paying a significant amount for a night’s stay. Anthony McHale, General Manager of the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, is a staunch believer in creating an atmosphere that is conducive to exceeding guest expectations, which includes not just knowing their names, but knowing their likes and dislikes.
McHale honed his guest recognition skills over a thirty-year career that has taken him to hotels in California, Texas, Canada, the Caribbean, Jamaica, Bermuda and England. Most recently he was the Hotel Manager at the Hotel Bel Air in Los Angeles.
How important is guest recognition?
Obviously it is very important. We all enjoy recognition and when we go into a hotel, if a staff member steps up to the plate, it means an awful lot. However, it is expected in the luxury environment.
When and why was this guest recognition program created?
This program at the Windsor Court started four to five years ago to improve our relationship with the guest by getting to know them and therefore serve them better. If you think about it realistically, hotels have been doing this forever, but we have fine-tuned it because we keep getting bigger and busier. We need to collect that information, store it and share it in order to be most effective in our daily lives.
How do you collect this data?
Any property management system has a database and we used one that was on the shelf. However, we will be changing the property management system in the next few months. There are better ways with systems today that allow more concise reporting and that can transfer the information to our arrival reports. We will make it easier to utilize the information we collected to serve the customer.
Again, customer intimacy and development allows us to detail that guest history form. We have other things we track besides the typical bed and smoking preferences. We take note of birthdays and anniversaries and learn the way the guests like the bed made, the fruits and beverages they consume, that sort of thing.
Is this something all employees are a part of?
Absolutely. It starts with the property management system and the sharing of that information between staff. It starts with the switchboard that identifies the guest when they call room service, front desk, etc. and we always use that name.
How do you get your employees to recognize customers? Do they also remember many repeat customers?
We have weekly department-head meetings where we highlight repeat guests and other important people. Additionally, we have daily arrival meetings and in these meeting we involve many different departments such as sales and housekeeping, so they can be aware of the guests that are coming tomorrow.
It goes back to the property management system and the telephone and getting finer details from places such as the doorman, who takes a look at a luggage tag and then passes that name to bellman, and then the bellman introduces them to front desk. When the front desk keys them in, they see the visitor is a repeat guest.
Do the guests ever look confused about how your staff knows their name?
The guests wonder how it all works and that is the beauty of guest recognition. When someone suddenly knows your name and you have been here before, it feels good.
If there was a call from room 2004 for example, and the guest is calling for additional towels, they will dispatch the towels as well as the name of the guest in the room. When they drop them off, they’ll say, Mr. so and so, here are your towels.
What separates your hotel from the other hotels?
It is very detailed. We are trying to create a warm, intimate and civil atmosphere without it becoming cold. We have a directive to exceed guest expectations at every level and we really spend time detailing that.
We have employees who recognize guests who have been coming for 16 years. The staff is excellent in that regard, so therefore the concierge knows the repeat guest’s tastes and desires. They remember what restaurant they like to dine in, etc. This is a further extension that guest recognition needs to incorporate in order to succeed.
Why do you think this approach stands out amongst the competition?
A lot of people give lip service, but only a few execute it.
Are there any special ways you show your repeat guests appreciation other than with kind words?
Our property has a guest relations manager that recognizes birthdays and anniversaries. We also send cards to their homes from the hotel and we also offer room upgrades to people who are good supporters.
If we can stick a repeat guest in a suite once in a while, it is well received.
We also customize gifts and instead of having a program where five stays equals a fruit basket, we learn that a guest may love cashmere sweaters, so perhaps on their 50th stay or 38th stay we will give that guest that sweater and fulfill the guest’s wants and needs.
It is important to get to know their likes and dislikes for when they visit. We try to find something suitable for the guest and it’ll be in their room when they arrive. A box of cigars, a type of wine, whatever it is, we will get it.
Is there a reward for employees who excel at this discipline?
We recognize them in two or three ways. We have the “Kudos” program, worth $5 at Service merchandise when an employee does something special.
We also have a rate structure for line employees that includes a probationary rate, median rate and superior rate. For any employee doing an absolutely outstanding job, part of their reward for guest recognition could be in some cases a 10% bump in pay. We also have an employee of the month and employee of the year program.